My focus on intraracial communication has come out of social events that have happened in the past couple of years–so the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 and the BLM protests, and really the whole BLM movement, seeing how that has shaped national dialogue on issues of race, structural racism, and white privilege.
We know interracial communication, a black person talking with a white person… when certain conditions are met, can actually reduce prejudice, effectively.
There’s lots of great work in that space, but less work in intragroup space, like just among white people.
There is a little bit of research showing that there’s something happening with white people thinking about identity, and that white intragroup solidarity, uniquely predicts political behaviors. And I was really curious, how were white people making sense of these difficult-to-talk-about topics. I say difficult-to-talk-about, because we know, as psychologists, that talking about privilege or things that your identity might afford to you that weren’t due to your own achievements, that can be threatening. That can lead you to want to distance yourself from those conversations.
So I was curious about when those conversations do happen–in all white contexts, where there are fewer reputational concerns about getting it right–what is happening? How do you get people to have good, honest conversations about race?
In the initial study that I’ve run, we recruited people online and had them watch videos, where it was scholars of color, defining white privilege, giving clear examples of it and structural racism. Then in conversation, we asked participants to react to that with their partner.
We wanted to get a sense of what people were comfortable with, to see what topics they’d bring up. Is it reinforcing beliefs about racism? Is it making people more open to learning more about it? And look at how intervention approaches, could change actual intentions, like whether somebody is going to have a conversation about race or not, and what that conversation is going to motivate them to do, like buying a book by a scholar of color on structural racism, attending a rally, attending a webinar. It could change their attitude about a race related policy, and could shape more equitable outcomes.
The Shapiro Memorial Grant will allow me to further hone in on what we found and develop an intervention that could potentially increase support for racial equity. We’re also going to try out this idea of empathic listening and emotional stories, to see whether these emotional, personal stories about race can humanize it and change looking at it from “What do I stand to lose? ” to “What do others stand to gain?”
As a scientist, I want to create studies, lend evidence, that can encourage people to feel good about themselves, and feel that advocating for other people is not inconsistent with holding a privileged identity.
There’s so many great scholars whose shoulders I’m standing on for this, including Dr. Shapiro’s. Her work on stereotype threats and prejudice was fundamental. And it showed me what I want to do, which is to translate research into action in a way that’s meaningful, that can be used to create an evidence-based solution or a policy solution, cause I think that’s really how you start to go about social change in an effective enduring way.
I love that social psychology is such a collaborative space, and that people are so humble and so generous with their time and knowledge. None of these ideas came to me by myself.
I just want to acknowledge all the mentors and advisors who have gotten me here: Dr. Tiffany Brannon, my advisor, the Intergroup Relations Lab, the Culture and Contact Lab, my co-authors, Erik Santoro, and Kiara Sanchez, and their advisors. It’s been a huge effort.
And I feel very privileged as a graduate student to be able to be in this space and have these connections and be able to do this work and receive the support and be in a place where this kind of work is valued because there’s definitely places where it’s not, you know, looking at what’s happening in our country right now. So it really is a privilege and an honor to, both, receive this award and also to be at UCLA.
(Graphic image by Stephen Plaster, AomAm, Napisah on TheNounProject)